Monday, 26 November 2012

Anti-ageing Amulet

How to run yourself ragged in under a week whilst making a Mightily Significant Birthday Gift in 10 easy steps

Step 1.
Go on a course with Libby Smith and be totally inspired by her Indian bags and tassels and Afghan amulets.

Step 2.
Despite only completing 1/8 of a hand-stitched and hand-beaded tassel (to go with the equally unfinished Indian spice bag begun last time Libby came to do a workshop) decide that very evening to make an "Afghan Amulet" for Mother's 70th Birthday - and present it to her at the Birthday Weekend.  In six days time. 

Nothing like a deadline.

Step 3.
Decide that the amulet will be inspired by Mother's many travels - including but not limited to Pakistan, India, Mongolia, China, Kenya, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Tibet, Australia (she's just returned from trekking in the Himalayas) and will symbolise in stitch all that she means to us, as her children and grandchildren - and her stepchild, as in my case she literally "stepped in" to be my mother when I was just five years old.
Step 4.
Spend a whole day dithering over which symbols to use for each person in her immediate family, and decide to use African Adinkra symbols.  Spend yet more time consulting with siblings and obtaining approval.
Step 5.
Gather all materials - African fabric (hoarded for years), cowrie shells (ditto), lots of beads - including previous presents from Mum of painted beads from Peru, and tiny African beads she bought from a Masai tribesman, Indian shisha mirrors (to deflect the evil eye), silk from an old blouse Mum passed on to me, Indian sari silk scraps, various and many embroidery threads...etc and so on.

Step 6.
Begin.  Just begin, just do it.  No time to think anymore, just get on with it!  And yes, hand-stitching is slow and hurts your fingers but stop whineing and just do it woman...

You'll notice from the light in some of the photos that a lot of work was done "after-hours".....

Step 7.
Stop to teach three machine embroidery classes, total of 8 hours not including prep and travel.

Step 8.
Finish at 4.32pm on the Friday you are supposed to be travelling to Dorset for the Birthday Weekend.  And remember, you are taking the evening meal, the Birthday Cake, the soup for Saturday lunch, some fizzy candles and you need to pack some clothes and the Child and the Husband, and dispose (temporarily) of the Dog.

Step 9.
Stand back and admire, briefly:

The finished amulet

The top - note crocodiles (adaptability), paddle (strength), adinkra circle (leadership), cocoa pod (hospitality) and tassels with five cowrie shells to represent Ma and her siblings...

Nine diamonds to represent children, spouses and offspring:
Brother: education and lifelong learning (he works for a University)
Brother's wife: excellence, authenticity, genuineness (she's a whizz at spreadsheets!)
Brother's son: fondness, love, parental discipline
Me: wisdom (?!), creativity
Mr G: independence, freedom (self-employed...nuff said)
The Girl: child of Heaven (I'm saying nothing....), guardianship
Sister: love, harmony, faithfulness (always)
Sister's husband: law, justice (he's a solicitor...)
Sister's son: love, safety, security

And of course, there are 70 beads on the three cords holding the diamonds and tassels.

Never mind the Four Hour Week, how about the Four Hour Tassel!  Not kidding!

Step 10.
Present to Ageing Mother.

I think she liked it.  She did wonder where to put it, and I think we've decided on a spot on the wall above the telephone. 

(Then the Girl piped up and said it would be useful, because it would be nice to look at if you were on the 'phone to someone boring...)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Machine embroidery, tamed

At last, I remembered to take my camera to class last week.  So here are some quick pics of what we've been up to - all complete beginners (apart from Morag).

These are some of the finished pieces using quilting, couching and twin-needle action, courtesy of





and Sarah's practice piece...


and here is one of Vix's first attempts at free machining (I'm told this is a work-in-progress!)

and Morag stitched herself a colour wheel without being asked!

So yes, we are slowly taming the machine embroidery beast, helped along by the results of our little survey!

Thank you to everyone who took the time and trouble to complete the survey - it's really appreciated.  It was hugely interesting reading all the comments and suggestions, so a quick summary is in order:
  • 40% of you are OK with machine embroidery until things go wrong, then you get stuck
  • Nobody is problem-free - not even the "pros" for some of whom the problem is not knowing what to stitch.  Another problem I hear all the time: "is this stitching with teeth up or teeth down?"
  • The joint biggest problems (after "other") are threads breaking and shredding, and tension issues - who knows, maybe one problem is causing the other?!
In conclusion, I recommend we SNORTT in the face of machine embroidery problems (have to admit, the Girl helped me with this one....)

S  is for Stabilise

The fabric needs to be as firm or taut as you can make it for free-machining - with a hoop or stabiliser, or just naturally firm.  If it isn't you may have problems with skipped stitches, puckering fabric and so on.

N is for Needle

If in doubt - change the needle. 
You should always use a large-eye or topstitch needle for machine embroidery, and they say you should change it (a) when switching to metallic thread, or a different type of thread (the eye wears differently according to the thread) and (b) after about five hours of solid stitching.  If you change to a new needle with each new project, many of your current woes will never arise.  If like me you forget to do this (mostly because I jump from project to sample to project and don't work on one thing at a time) and you start to have problems with the thread shredding or skipping - change the needle.  Use a large (100/16) needle for metallic and delicate threads - it will make a bigger hole through the work so the thread won't get worn and shred so quickly.

O is for Oil (and clean)

You wouldn't believe the dust-bunnies I've seen emerge from behind the little bobbincase door...

If your machine is beginning to get noisy and rattly, then a jolly good clean-out and oil is in order.  Check the manual for how and where.  This will also remove loose threads and other gunk, and make stitching a whole lot smoother and easier.

R is for Rethread or Reroute thread

If the thread is snapping, then something is more than slightly amiss with your tension - most likely the thread has got caught or snagged up somewhere, probably around the spool pin.  Some very shiny threads are appalling at just falling off the reel.  A quick fix is to put the thread in a jar, old mug or plastic tub behind your machine, instead of on the spool holder.  Sometimes threads are particularly bouncy and can bounce out of the tension discs or the little catch just above the needle - so if you are having problems with tension, check this hasn't happened.  If in doubt, take the thread off and rethread everything - from scratch, not just the bit that goes through the needle....We had a horrendous case of skipped stitches in class the other day, and it turned out that the bobbin had been wound very loosely - sometimes this happens during winding and you won't notice it until you start to have problems stitching, so rethreading includes rewinding the bobbin if necessary as well.

T is for Tension

For the spool, a high number is tight - and a low number is loose.  Usually.  Always loosen it one notch from "normal" for free machining, and another notch for using metallic or delicate threads.  Loosening the top tension is kinder on delicate threads, and allows it to be drawn through the fabric a little so the bobbin thread will not show.  If you do want the bobbin to show, for example with whip stitch, then you need to tighten the tension - and use a stronger thread that won't snap under pressure!

Sometimes you can't avoid adjusting the bobbin tension, particularly if you want to have a go at cable stitch (using thicker threads in the bobbin - like Carol Naylor).  You just need to locate the tiny tension screw on the edge of the bobbin case, and the most important thing is to remember which way to turn it:


well, that and not dropping the tiny little screw onto the carpet...

and finally,

T is for Technique

While problems never disappear and threads will shred for anyone, needles will always break if you hit hard things (like beads, wire, fingers...) and machines will always need cleaning and oiling, a lot of problems will diminish with time and practice.  One of the biggest problems with free machining and one that can easily cause puckering and broken needles, is learning how to coordinate the speed of the machine with the speed you move your work.  Move too fast and you may break a needle; move too slow and you may have problems with thread build up and lumps and bumps.  And another easy one that I find is easily overlooked - and something that was mentioned a lot in the survey - don't forget to hold your threads when you start to stitch!  I think it is becoming easier to forget this, as a lot of the new machines let you get away with it - but with free machine embroidery you ALWAYS have to do this, as there is no pressure between the needle and the fabric holding the threads in place.

Finally, if you do find you have a major bird's nest under your work, you've forgotten to put the presser foot lever down.  Happens to us all.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Creativity Pod

I finished the small woolly object started last week - it is hereby named a Creativity Pod! 

I made it for Himself, for his birthday.

It opens up to reveal the pebbly treasure within:


the idea being that you then arrange the pebbles in whatever way you wish. 

It's a right-brain activity (as in right-brain thinking in pictures, left-brain thinking in words) and it's designed to (a) soothe a frazzled head that's been doing too much left-brain thinking, and (b) help with creative right-brain non-linear thinking...

I had the idea back in August when we were in Brittany, playing with pebbles on the beach...and reading this book when back at the tent.  She suggests doing something similar with coins, but I thought pebbles would be more tactile and meaningful!

This is the first of two explanations from my last few posts; the second explanation for the machine embroidery survey will be along in a day or so once I've analysed my results. The survey is still open (I can't work out how to close it....) so if you haven't taken part yet, please do!

Friday, 9 November 2012



....from the deepest darkest depths of the car storage bins under the floormats....(how long have we been back from holiday?)

Destined to become part of a Birthday Present for a Certain Poet...(and yes, he's a bit Uncertain about quite what his present is going to be...and nervous...)

On my way back from fetching felting wool to make the other part of the Birthday Present, from the Little House at the end of the garden, I found this forgotten treasure:

It came with a bonus earwig...

Meanwhile, the wool is slowly working itself into a receptacle for treasure:

(and yes, with the Birthday imminent, I'm supposed to be helping it along at the moment and not writing blog posts)

But I just had to show you this other treasure, that arrived in the post yesterday:

Just how wonderful is that?  I'm so lucky! 
Thank you Anne!

There was even bonus treasure, wrapped around the parcel:

Wonderful stuff!

And even more treasure in the afternoon, from my class:

from Ann and Tricia, working hard to perfect their organza flowers over half-term...

But of course, the biggest and best treasure of all is:

....also the naughtiest Whippet.

He's not allowed up the stairs, but this was Bonfire Night so exceptions were made....

Still naughty though!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Question time

I've got a little idea noodling around the ol' noggin, and I've put together a little quiz to try and do a bit more investigating.  I've never done a survey before, it's quite exciting!

I would be really grateful if you could take the time to answer just 10 questions.  There's always the option to say "don't know"!

And please forward the link on to anyone you know who does machine embroidery - beginner or pro, dabbler or demon stitcher. 

Thank you!

NB: When I say "machine embroidery" I'm not talking about those pre-programmed digitised designs that you can stitch onto sweatshirts and stuff - I'm talking "free-machining", variations thereof, and other related decorative and creative ways to stitch with a standard sewing machine.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

First Plaice

(Title to this post courtesy of Mr Gonecycling.....try living with him...)

I won!

I've never won a thing before - second, yes, but I don't remember every winning anything. 

And I've never had a silver cup before!

I'm truly deeply chuffed.

The brief was "flotsam and jetsam" and my little fishies, Flotsam and Jetsam, were truly all recycled and repurposed - from the can openers to the recycled sequins, the paper saved from holiday and the washed-up seashells from Brittany, and all stitched with second-hand threads.